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 Post subject: Q & A with Andrew Birkin #7
PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 8:39 am 
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As you read Mr. Birkin’s responses to our questions, please keep in mind that his answers are intended solely for the purpose of our readers. Please do not use his replies or take any quotes from them for any other purpose or post them on any other boards or websites. That was his only caveat when he agreed to participate, that our answers be kept “in house”. I know you all will honor his request!

Jackie Wullschlager, in her 1995 book, Inventing Wonderland, goes to great lengths to document what she describes as an undercurrent of homosexuality and latent pedophilia, which run throughout JMB’s life and writings. She describes scenes in his books which ooze sexual fantasies and discusses in detail what she sees as sexually symbolic figures, such as Hook, (who is) characterized by phallic symbolism from the start. Her attitude toward JMB is, I think, superior and condescending, yet I daresay that in another hundred years we will still be reading JMB, but will have no idea who Jackie Wullschlager is. At any rate, what are your thoughts on the supposed undercurrent of homosexuality or latent pedophilia in JMB’s works and/or in his personal life?

AB: When I first mentioned "paedophilia" to Nico back in 1975, he barely knew what the word meant, and – in its sexual sense – wholly denied that it applied to Barrie (other than in the literal Greek sense of platonic child-lover, as distinct from pederasty). Nico told a story about how his brother Peter had been at some cocktail party in the 1920s when the subject got onto pederastic authors. Like who? "Well, Sir James Barrie for one ... haven't you heard about him and his boys?" The drunken woman who cited the semi-humourous allegation had no idea who Peter was, but Peter himself found it very amusing – precisely because it was such a ridiculous idea. As Nico put it so succinctly, "I don't believe Uncle Jim ever felt any stirrings in the undergrowth for anyone, man woman or child." Barrie's problem was that he was physically impotent (Mary Ansell told Hilda Trevelyan and several others). Even Boothby – who thought Barrie’s relationship with Michael was “unhealthy” – believed Barrie was impotent, and had no sexual lust for any of the boys (you can hear him on the audio site).

But Barrie also longed to be a father, and often expressed those feelings in words that to a modern ear sound ambiguous. The most notorious example is a chapter in "The Little White Bird", often cited as evidence of Barrie's paedophilic fantasies. The chapter describes an episode in which the Narrator (aka Barrie), who yearns for a child of his own whom he fondly calls Timothy, gains Mary's (Sylvia's) permission to let her five-year-old son David (George) spend the night with him, as a treat for them both. David sleeps on a spare bed in the narrator's bedroom. I actually dramatised this sequence in The Lost Boys ...

I think he had nigh fallen asleep again when he stirred and said,
"Is it going on now?"
"What?"
"The adventure."
"Yes, David."
Perhaps this disturbed him, for by-and-by I had to inquire, "You
are not frightened, are you?"
"Am I not?" he answered politely, and I knew his hand was groping
in the darkness, so I put out mine and he held on tightly to one
finger.
"I am not frightened now," he whispered.
"And there is nothing else you want?"
"Is there not?" he again asked politely. "Are you sure there's
not?" he added.
"What can it be, David?"
"I don't take up very much room," the far-away voice said.
"Why, David," said I, sitting up, "do you want to come into my
bed?"
"Mother said I wasn't to want it unless you wanted it first," he
squeaked.
"It is what I have been wanting all the time," said I......

Taken out of context, this episode could indeed be put forward as evidence of Barrie's fantasies, repressed or otherwise – a precursor to one of Michael Jackson’s sleep-overs at Neverland ... But the narrator goes on –

... and then without more ado the little white figure rose and flung itself at
me. For the rest of the night he lay on me and across me, and
sometimes his feet were at the bottom of the bed and sometimes on
the pillow, but he always retained possession of my finger, and
occasionally he woke me to say that he was sleeping with me. I
had not a good night. I lay thinking.
Of this little boy, who, in the midst of his play while I
undressed him, had suddenly buried his head on my knees.
Of the woman who had been for him who could be sufficiently
daring.
Of David's dripping little form in the bath, and how when I
essayed to catch him he had slipped from my arms like a trout.
Of how I had stood by the open door listening to his sweet
breathing, had stood so long that I forgot his name and called
him Timothy.

If you've had children yourself, you will know the pleasures that Barrie is describing – indeed it’s one of the great joys of fatherhood, being able to kiss and cuddle and stroke your children in bed. Of course if you start feeling stirrings in the undergrowth, then you have a problem... thank God I never did!

I don’t believe that any reading The Little White Bird in full can sensibly conclude that this amounts to the Confessions of a Paedophile. Unless perhaps he’s a paedophile himself. Such was the case with Dr Morris Fraser, who first went into print with accusations of paedophila back in 1976 in a book called "The Death of Narcissus" (published by the reputable Secker & Warburg). The dust-jacket blurb states the following:

"Dr Morris Fraser, psychiatrist, sets out to study those adults who are attracted to young children, who suffer the sexual disorder known as paedophilia of which so little is known, so little understood. Dr Fraser sees the creative artist as the uniquely qualified spokesman for any psychiatric abnormality of which he may be victim. By quoting from stories such as “Alice in Wonderland”, “Peter Pan” and “Turn of the Screw”, Dr Fraser pinpoints the paedophilic symptoms, sadly confirmed by the childhoods of his subjects, who include not only Lewis Carroll, J M Barrie and Henry James, but also Hugh Walpole, George MacDonald, Thomas Mann and Charles Kingsley.”

I read the chapter on Barrie, and found it littered with factual errors, not merely clumsy (Frohman going down on the Titanic instead of the Lusitania) but also charged with the sense that many of these errors have arisen for a blatant disregard for the truth. Fraser’s thesis states that paedophiles typically fall in love with themselves at the age at which they felt abandoned in childhood – in Barrie’s case with the death of his brother and the resulting abandonment by his mother. Crippled by these early parental rejections, the “sad victims” spend the rest of their lives looking for themselves at that age in the body of another child of the same age. Thus all the objects of Barrie’s affections were six-year-old boys.... or so stated Dr Fraser. But as we know, Barrie’s relationship with the boys only intensified with age, particularly George and Michael. His last letter to George – written a few hours before George’s death on the Western Front in 1915 – also contains ambivalent lines to a modern ear: “ I do seem to be sadder to-day than ever”, wrote Barrie from his lonely eerie, “...and more and more wishing you were a girl of 21 instead of a boy, so that I could say the things to you that are now always in my heart.” Hardly paedophilic, given that George was by now a strapping soldier.
The letter continues: “For four years I have been waiting for you to become 21 & a little more, so that we could get closer & closer to each other, without any words needed. I don't have any little iota of desire for you to get military glory. I do not care a farthing for anything of the kind, but I have the one passionate desire that we may all be together again once at least. You would not mean a feather-weight more to me though' you came back a General. I just want yourself. There may be some moments when a knowledge of all you are to me will make you a little more careful, and so I can't help going on saying these things. ... I have lost all sense I ever had of war being glorious, it is just unspeakably monstrous to me now. Loving, J M B”

As his brother Peter wrote: “Surely no soldier in France or Flanders ever had more moving words from home than those in this tragic, desperately apprehensive letter. I think it well illustrates the peculiar and characteristic form which J.M.B.'s affection for George and Michael took: a dash of the paternal, a lot of the maternal, and much, too, of the lover — at this stage Sylvia's lover still imperfectly merged into the lover of her son. To criticise would be easy; yet I don't think it did, or would have done, George any harm.”

Perhaps George himself left the best evidence that his relationship with Barrie was wholly non-sexual. Shortly before leaving for the trenches in 1914, George bought two copies of The Little White Bird. One he gave to his fiancee; the other he took with him in his kit-bag. Had “inappropriate” events taken place in his childhood, is it probable that George would have chosen the book containing the infamous sleep-over chapter to give to his girl – or keep him company by candlelight in some foreign field? I asked Dr Fraser this over lunch. We’d agreed to meet after I’d written to him with my criticisms. We’d barely finished our prawn cocktails when it slowly began to dawn on me. He’d dedicated the book “For Nasreen”. Who’s Nasreen? His analyst. “Is this book by any chance all about you?” It transpired that Dr Fraser had been deported from the United States a few years earlier. Drugs? Dr Fraser shook his head and stared at his prawns. Yes, you’ve guessed.... Having sex with an underaged boy in Griffith Park!

One of the purposes of putting so many audio clips on the jmbarrie website is to let people hear the “witnesses” I interviewed back in 1976 speak for themselves. Many of them found Barrie’s intense relationship with Michael “unhealthy”, but no one believed for a minute that he’d been a paedophile in any physical, sexual sense. I would suggest skeptics listen to their evidence rather than mine and form their own conclusions.

Timothy was described as being the narrator’s dream-child in The Little White Bird. Barrie used the same words to describe Peter Pan – “a sort of dream-child of mine” – Barrie’s own idealised son. He said as much himself. “Perhaps Peter is a boy who was never born at all. A boy whom some people longed for, but who never came.” A cry from Barrie’s heart if ever there was one. But not from his balls.



And thanks to Veronica, who sent us this picture, we now can show you what Andrew Birkin looks like. Thanks, V.

Image
Andrew and his niece, Charlotte Gainsbourg



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You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 9:51 am 
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what a wonderful writter & friend he is. His devotion to Barrie to tell the truth about him is wonderful & refreshing. I could read his words forever. I can almost hear this soft spoken man talking as I am reading. thanks so much to everyone who has helped in this discussion. How will we ever top this?



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if it's not, then it's not the end.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 10:09 am 
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Wow! I am just overwhelmed at AB's lengthy and insightful response. I've read "The Little White Bird" and it is such a beautiful, sad story. I can see how the passage he quotes could be taken out of context to serve as "proof" that JMB was a pedophile, but in the context of the rest of the story, which is so very moving, it means so much more.

I really can't thank AB and the moderators of ONBC enough for making this incredible opportunity available to us. Imagine! Having one of the world's most respected JMB scholars over for our own private little chat! I'm printing every one of his responses and will keep them inside my copy of his wonderful book.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 11:26 am 
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What an incredible thoughtful answer to the question! At some point I hope we all have a chance to send a message of thanks to Mr Birkin for doing this! Might that be arranged, DITHOT? You collect our messages and pass them on to him. I wonder if he would like to know how far across the globe his messages have traveled.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 1:21 pm 
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Having recently read and enjoyed Jackie Wullschlager's Inventing Wonderland, I feel I must defend her. She does not say that Barrie was a pedophile, and I believe (once again, I'm at work, so am without the book) cites Birkin's quote from Nico about the "stirrings in the undergrowth" as proof that Barrie wasn't interested in sexual matters much, if at all. The focus of her concern about Barrie's sexuality concerns his writings, and we've discussed that extensively here in the ONBC. I don't think any critical post-Freudian reader can read Barrie's work and not think there are sexual undercurrents within. But I'm also convinced that they remained undercurrents.

Wullschlager's chapter about Barrie also follows a chapter on Lewis Carroll, whom she makes sound twisted as a corkscrew. :yuck2: :yuck: Barrie seems quite wholesome in comparison.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 2:47 pm 

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I just wanted to add my thanks to our wonderful moderators for giving us this chance to hear from Andrew Birkin. His answers are full and thoughtful - and invariably generous. He really seems to have developed an affinity for Barrie, and an understanding of that complicated and in many ways sad man. No wonder all the surviving family and friends of Barrie were so willing to help him back in the mid-seventies. I think the fact that Nico "sold" all his Barrie related records and pictures to Birkin after the series and the book were written (he "sold" them for a couple of cases of malt whiskey - way to go Nico!) is proof of the fact that he saw that Birkin truly understood Barrie. Birkin's response to this especially difficult question leads me to think he really does.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 2:55 pm 
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nebraska wrote:
What an incredible thoughtful answer to the question! At some point I hope we all have a chance to send a message of thanks to Mr Birkin for doing this! Might that be arranged, DITHOT? You collect our messages and pass them on to him. I wonder if he would like to know how far across the globe his messages have traveled.


I think that is a fabulous idea, Nebraska. :cool: DITHOT and I just discussed it and think we should go forward with that. Keep a sharp eye for more information on the actual logistics of this. We will probably ask for your messages soon after we are finished posting the Q&A.



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You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 3:21 pm 
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johnnycake wrote:
I really can't thank AB and the moderators of ONBC enough for making this incredible opportunity available to us. Imagine! Having one of the world's most respected JMB scholars over for our own private little chat! I'm printing every one of his responses and will keep them inside my copy of his wonderful book.


What a wonderful idea, johnnycake, to print these responses to keep inside our books! Now why didn't I think of that? This correspondance we have with Andrew Birkin is very special, and something to be kept as the treasure it is. I'm off to start printing right now!



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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 6:15 pm 
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Wow, what a wonderful reponse! I am blown away by the fact that he is willing to spend such time and thought on answering our questions. I hadn't thought of printing them either - what a great idea. I do hope we will be able to personally thank him, as nebraska suggested. Liz and DITHOT, thanks again for this spendid opportunity!



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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 6:22 pm 
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We will definitely work up a way for us to send our thanks to Mr. Birkin for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this for us. Look for a thread in that vein once all the Q&A has been posted.

You can really tell how devoted he is to Barrie's memory when you read his answers to our questions. I suppose he feels an affinity to him as a writer but, like you all, I think it goes deeper than that. He feels a protective friendship for him. I am sure his relationsip with Nico must have meant a lot to him as well. When you look at his beautiful website and all the time he is spending to transcribe Birkin's letters, notebooks and all the audio material he is making available the admiration is obvious.

Lucky we are! :cool:



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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 9:34 pm 
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Again, I have to thank Liz and DITHOT for persuading Mr. Birkin for sharing these wonderful insights with us. The passage he quotes from The Little White Bird is the exact thing that caused me to question Barrie's "love" for the boys. I am so glad to have it put in perspective. Barrie certainly had his faults and, I believe, was a very troubled individual. I'm relieved though that now I can have sympathy and understanding for him rather than suspicion and revulsion.

(BTW, thanks for putting a face with the name, Veronica. I see that beautiful strong features definitely run in that family.)

On printing the responses, would it be possible Liz and DITHOT when the daily questions are over to reprint only the questions and answers in one thread? I'd also love to have all of these safely tucked inside my book!


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 10:36 pm 
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Quote:
On printing the responses, would it be possible Liz and DITHOT when the daily questions are over to reprint only the questions and answers in one thread? I'd also love to have all of these safely tucked inside my book!


We are planning to post just the questions and answers in one thread at the end of the Q&A just for that purpose. There will be an epilogue as well. So if you want to save any of the discussion you will need to print that out separately. What a great idea to save it inside the book! You all are brilliant! :highfive:



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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2004 12:06 am 

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Wow! That was really wonderful. I was so happy to see Birkin's comments on "The Little White Bird," and that they pretty much matched some of our conclusions and impressions as we were discussing that scene. I remember several discussion members understanding the scene in terms of the joy of cuddling with children that Birkin so eloquently but matter-of-factly invokes. I am just stunned that he opened up so much on this particular question, and I feel so lucky to be one of the recipients of these authorial insights on a book with which I have been enthralled! Thanks so much, DITHOT and Liz, again and again, and I would love to be able to express my thanks to Mr. Birkin.

That's a wonderful picture, by the way. I love Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Birkin looks like quite the Romantic gentleman, too!


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:32 am 
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Quote:
That's a wonderful picture, by the way. I love Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Birkin looks like quite the Romantic gentleman, too!


That is a great pic that Veronica found. If you want to see him in a more recent time frame, watch the extras that Veronica mentioned on the most recent release of Peter Pan. He does a short interview on Barrie with the Duchess of York.



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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2004 10:20 am 
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My question to everyone is if this was a woman that had a little girl staying over & said she could sleep in her bed would we be questioning her motives. Just something to think about.



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if it's not, then it's not the end.

Today is a gift....Have Fun!
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